Master Kim felt completely bewildered by the actions and activities of the people on the bus, but he didn't allow his feelings to show.
The young White couple at the back of the bus, kissing and feeling on each other. The shame he felt about their conduct was transmitted to the other Koreans on the bus, who informed him with a glance ... this is not Korea, this is America, this is the way they are.
Master Kim bowed his head in thought. Riding the bus for a month was his idea.
I want to get to know the people. In Korea there are only Koreans, here there are many different kinds of people. When I open the doors of my dojang and they come, I must know who they are, how they are, what they think.
I have never had a conversation with a Mexican, a Black, Filipino.... I must know them, they will be coming to Tosan dojang.
Master Kim's relatives and those friends who had been in Los Angeles for years before he decided to see "this America," simply smiled and bowed.
One could not tell an 8th Dan in their national martial art form, Tae Kwon Do, what to do, and how to do it. They all bowed discreetly and offered hint their advice concerning the different kinds of people he would be likely to meet.
No one could possibly prepare him for the madness that he was likely to experience during the course of his one month trip around town.
Daily he set out from his apartment in Koreatown to ride the busses. Sometimes (using his monthly bus pass) he rode the Wilshire bus west as far as it would go, or east. And the Vermont bus south, as far as it would go. Or the Western Avenue bus. Or one of the others.
It took a full week of being constantly shocked by the anti- social behavior of the people for him to relax; why did the people rush and push each other to board the bus? Why did they frown so much? Why were the people so... so isolated from each other?
Why did the young African-American men, good potential for Tae Kwo Do, disrespect everyone so badly?
One afternoon, on the westbound bus to Venice, two Black men, maybe fifteen sixteen years old, screamed dirty words, pounded on the seats in the back of the bus, told obscene stories to each other, obviously begging others to listen in on their misery. Master Kim felt like crying. What kind of pain would produce people to behave in such a fashion?
He made a special effort to listen to them, to try to understand what was forcing them to misbehave so badly.
Why would they put their shoes into the seats that other people would be sitting in?
They had no respect for others. They had no respect for themselves. He wasn't gang sophisticated enough to determine if they were doing what they were doing because they had to, or because they had been driven to that nebulous nihilism that sells self destruction.
I must work on the African American youth.... I must teach them to control their anger.
The straight out crazies were much more complicated for him to relate to. First off, Master Kim's English language skills were not way up there, and many of the English warbling crazies could sometimes ensnare him, emotionally, with their convoluted, psycho Babylonized mush chat, before he realized where they were.
He "talked" to one poor, homeless, obese, drastically sexually abused African American teenager (maybe) for fifteen consecutive bus stops before he realized that the youngster needed more help than he could possibly offer.
The types of madnesses running around freely distressed and disturbed him. How can they allow people who are completely crazy to ride the bus?
The clothes, the tattoos, the craziness made him feel very sad, but the attitudes of the people made him feel even worse. Some were "normal" people who could see the bright side of life, but most seemed to be bogged down by personal demons....
Maybe he was ready for Darrilyn when she came.
"Good morning, Sir."
The brightness of the greeting, the open flavor of the woman's voice startled him.
"Ahhh, good morning.”
They rode side by side, exchanging obliquely pleasant smiles. Master Kim was intrigued by the young woman's attitude vibe.
She is obviously someone who has a healthy regard for herself. Master Kim decided to make an effort to use his whiplash English.
"This is nice day, you think?”
“0 yes, certainly. Any day that gives us an opportunity to begin breathing is a nice day, to put it mildly."
Master Kim puzzled over the flow of her words and came to the conclusion that she was saying something he agreed with.
"My English, you know, not good.”
"Ohhh, don't worry about it," she announced in high gliding tones. "This is America, no one speaks good English here."
He nodded to her, a smile creasing his face. This is a nice person.
"Where going?" he asked, feeling more confidence in his language skills.
"It could be here. It could be there. I'm just riding. And what about you, where are you going?"
“I am also here and also there."
They laughed aloud at the joke they shared and shook hands. Master Kim felt a certain kind of awkwardness, shaking a woman’s hand, especially one who was younger than himself, but in America, do as the Americans.
Block after block they talked, exchanging ideas, points of view. He was delighted to know that she knew something about Tae Kwon Do.
"Hand and foot way, a very interesting way to look at the world. I have had several clients who studied this art."
“And you, the astro logist, I like this also.”
Language was left far behind their relationship to each other. They could feel that, the people around them could feel the vibe, Master Kim studied the woman's hands, her feet, the beauty of her neck and ears, the positive way she sat in her seat.
She was the first woman from another race that he had ever felt attracted to. But she seemed so Asian. Perhaps one of her parents was an Asian.
"Well, this is where I get off."
He stared at her, stunned by her declaration.
"Here, you are getting off."
"Yes,” she answered him and moved quickly to the exit.
Master Kim felt like leaving the bus with her, but he had not been invited and he didn't want to lose face. He looked at her as she stood at the exit door, waiting for the bus to stop, wishing that he could invent a reason for being with her a little longer.
She dipped into her Kente cloth bag and pulled out a card as they shuddered to a halt
"Here, this is my card. Get in touch with me if you wanna have your chart done."
He studied the name for a few seconds, to familiarize himself with the sound, and bowed in her direction. Darrilyn was gone.
Click On: "Bone Daddy's Journey"
How did it begin? Well, to be gloriously honest with you, I don't know. That is to say, I don't know how it began, but I do know when it began. It began in nineteen hundred 'n 88.
In nineteen hundred ‘n 88, in search of Heaven inspired rhythms, the elusive sound of the reddest chord ever played, and a woman named Self-Determination (the Nguzo Saba has the key to this translation code), I flew nervously to Oakland.
All might have been cool if I had only sub-leased my apartment. Mr. and Mrs. Chan, after ten years of hard Berimbau listening, would have granted my every wish. I was still paying the lowest rent for a trendy area apartment, solely on the basis of me being "Bone Daddy."
"0, please don't worry about prosaic stuff, you are destined to pay us the six months back rent soon. Go about your business, we are not worried about you.”
That's the way it was between me and my landlords. Could anything be better? I mean, when you have that sort of understanding between you and your landlord ... Hello!
I invited Tabula, Donna, Cedric, Synthia St. James (subsequently famous for designing a U.S. postage stamp), Waheed, 'Bridge, Henrique, Eliana, D.J., Willie, Nancy Cox, Amde, Richard and Otis (the Persuasions of the poetic world) and hundreds of other well meaning spirits to share my "going out.”
Bottom line: I gave up my apartment. Never more would my sexually conservative neighbors (Italians who screamed "fuck you" out of their second floor windows at each other, next door Armenian incestists, Chinese puritans) have to redface me the next day, after listening, horrified, no doubt, to the screams of histrionically inclined African Americans. Or wonder what the hell I had done with the trio of Brazilian sisters who had done a midnight session with me. And followed me, loaded on cachasah and empadao, to continue the play.
Nor would I have to subtly subtitle for the Chans, my landlord friends, after evenings filled with music from the Corrida, female circumcision ceremonies, Afro Cuban Santeria rites and the blues from a few brothers who had paid their dues in Angola (not the country, the prison in Louisiana).
Gave it up. Never thought I'd have any need for the place anymore after Self-Determination.
We were going to call it, "This Time.”
What it spelled out was quite clear to me. I, "Bone Daddy," had declared an end to my boning. That's how highly I thought of Self Determination. And still do. Ase.
The chords, red and blue, and some that I would never be able to describe were there. The Heaven inspired rhythms were there. Some of them resembled earthquakes ("and did the Earth move for you, Bone Daddy?"). But a lot of other goodies were blocked by Self-Determination's self-righteous rigidity and brutal insensitivity. The danger zone was curved.
None of these qualities were apparent to me when I made myself apartment-less and flew nervously to Oakland. It took months to discover the cause of my night sweats, why my molars were grinding themselves to nubs, why my stomach was churning before and after the Heaven inspired rhythms had played out.
It didn't matter to her, these feelings, for her, the control freak, all that really mattered was that I obey the will of self determined Self-Determination.
Little bit like a religious fanatic who asks very few questions but has all the answers. I felt trapped. The boning was bon, no doubt about that, but there are times when even the bon of boning won’t cover up for what's bad. I began to plot my escape.
Most of the exits were barricaded with sex furniture, promises, visions, sinsemilla reasoning, concepts that meant a lot, even if they weren't carried out to the letter.
We wanted “This Time" to be the real time, we really did. We were both seasoned vets of the emotional wars, with hundreds of wounds (and wounded) in our files and felt a serious need to have “This Time" be "The Time."
For two long hill dipping years we tried. The bookmakers in Oakland libeled me a dark horse, maybe the darkest, and pushed the odds up to a hundred to one against the dark horse limping across the finish line.
Kahlil Gibran, the Lebanese mystic, is the one who wrote, "We should love what is between us, not each other." Well, that might've been good advice for a lot of lovers, but for me and Self Determination, there was too much between us.
I doubt if I spent one whole week without staring into the abscessed eyes of one of her ex men, they were everywhere. Well, I guess that was to be expected. After all, I had moved onto her turf. I was between them and her.
Frequently, I scrapped my escape plan because the music had been exceptionally groovy that night (morning, afternoon, mid-afternoon, evening, mid evening, dawn, midnight, whenever we got into the groove) and I just couldn't see myself straying too far from the magic of her music.
Frequently, my escape plans were foiled by the deeply felt circumnavigations of the self determined head. There were moments when I could almost say that she held me captive by the powers of her mind, head.
Matters finally came to a head, I guess I could say, on a trip we made to a conference in the San Bernardino mountains. After the conference, on the way down, appropriately, I made an instant decision.
"Drop me at my friend's house in Torrance.”
“You’re not going back with me?"
So, there I was in Torrance with $75 and the clothes on my back. I was free. Free of the delicious tortures inflicted deliberately (and accidentally), free of the tyranny of a love that was too tough, bent, warped and shaped by previous investors.
My whole body felt that it was being pulled, magnetized to her cherry red vehicle as it shot away from the curb, and at the same time, absurdly a weight was suddenly lifted from my head.
I spent two years in my friend's garage, sleeping on a mattress that was piled on layers of cardboard and newspapers. "Bone Daddy's nest,” one of my girlfriends called it.
Of course, I had to trip back and forth to Oakland a few times to grab a couple leftover boxes and have my pleasure pan singed. So much danger, so much. I was never certain that I was going to be able to escape again, until the last second.
But I did pull away, the cruel thoughts of what I had endured shot me straight back to Torrance.
From 1990 to 1992, I wrote books and I read books. I will never be able to say how many books I wrote or read. There were evenings, during the rainy season, with the droplets on the roof sounding like Tito Puente, when I wrote two five hundred paged novels. Two...
My dream time was unaltered, left intact. My friend didn't really care what I was doing in the garage, and I didn't really care what he was doing in the house. We came together for conversations and to watch one of his favorite t.v. shows in the evening.
(Never could figure out what was supposed to be so appetizing about "The Love Connection.” But, hey, what do I know?)
I felt like a special kind of Monk; maybe I had drifted away from the Major Vehicle to something that might be called a "garage monk,” definitely an off shoot of one of the major sects.
During the course of the day, my friend at work, with no one to distract my focus, I did five things.
I walked about a mile (of long, long Torrance auto-designed blocks) to this huge, neighborhood park for my morning Capoeira workout. Capoeira workout. What's that? Stretching, moving, kicking, sweating for an hour. Homes, with the good jelly feeling in your upper body, the tight urge to kick in the legs. Home for a ritual shower, hot and then cold.
Write. I would write about what I was writing, write what I was writing, write what I was going to write. Write.
Read. Once a week I staged a guerrilla raid on the Torrance Library and came away with treasures that they didn't know they had.
“A survey of African dances? Are you sure we have that?"
"About 92%, seems likely that someone has written something like that. Check your computer."
And, after surveying/reading as much as I could possibly read about the dances of Africa, I would write some more. Some of this writing may have been very good, I don't know. I simply wrote and let whatever was going to happen to it happen.
Some of it got published, some of it didn't get published. Some of it I'm still writing....
In the garage, I sometimes spent days sprawled on "Bone Daddy's Nest," staring up at the gorgeous spider webs that emblazoned the garage ceiling. I spent days not moving my lips, other then to say "Hello" and/or "Goodbye.”
I would be pushing the envelope (uugghh, hate that term) to suggest that this was a deliberate thing. I think it was simply about what it was about. There was no one to talk to or anybody to talk about somebody with. So why talk?
(Sat at Lake Merritt, in Oakland, California, this past Wednesday, June 5, 1997, talking with my friend, Lena Slachmuijlder, who had just pulled in from Accra, Ghana.
She was giving me loads of help to try to help Grace Appiah, the woman I love, to secure a visa.)
As we talked, Ishmael Reed strolled past. He may have been exercising in his exercise clothes. No telling. Ishmael is a strange dude. He looked at me and recognized me, and I looked at him and recognized him. We exchanged salutes -- "Uhh ugh.” Or something like that.
Lena didn't know who he was and I couldn't immediately think up enough titles to explain to her why he is considered "an important Black writer.” I wouldn't've been able to explain why he was important. Or considered Black. Or a writer (by some, in any case).
It had something to do with what went through me on a daily basis in my friend's garage. It wasn't an easy time, those two years. I don't know if Africa was calling me before I moved into the garage, or if Self Determination had intercepted the previous phonings.
In another man's garage the call became quite insistent. Africa was calling. Specifically, Ghana, West Africa. The drumming (why was I always playing somebody's conga, or buying one or two? Or going to worship Armando Peraza, Mongo Santa Maria, Carlos "Potato" Valdez, Julito Collazo, Modesto Duran, Papito, Francisco Aquabella, Totico and all the others?). The sounds of the languages they speak has always been clear to me despite a serious effort to prevent us from relating to, learning about or knowing Africa. The first time I heard a prayer in Yoruba, the hair stood up on the back of my neck. And then my head. The Ga took me straight to about six centuries of Jazz that I'd never understood.
I could easily see the separate headlines in the mainstream newspapers. "Ga, a Ghanaian language, has made Bone Daddy understand Jazz much mo' betta'.”
My uncles; Africa could explain my four uncles, including Uncle Sweet Milk. And maybe offer me a linchpin clue to why my Daddy was as wild as he was, and called "Honey.”
In addition to that, conglomerations of people who had gone to Africa, kept going to Africa, and who were always talking about what it was. Plus the spiritual vibes that have been shaking me out of deep sleeps all of my life.
"Come on Over1 the waters are swimmable.”
This couple that I had known in Los Angeles were now living in a section of Accra called Osu and they had a spare bedroom. The call became a siren in the night. Yeahhh, go to Ghana, see what that's about....
The couple had never been intimate friends, but we had hung out on some of the same artistic fringes, so I felt at ease. I felt I knew her a little better than I knew him, but it didn't matter a whole bunch. They were offering me a stone to step across the pond.
Never would have been able to predict the kinds of problems they were, that they were having, that he was having, that she was having, that they caused me, in a hundred years. But, before all of that would be revealed to me, I'd have to get over there.
Spiritually, I was there the minute I had made up my mind to go there. The second part of the program required me to buy a round trip ticket. It seemed to be an impossible number to pull off.
I had no money in the bank, no rich relatives, no dishonest cash flow, no lucrative hustle, just a ball point, some notebook paper and a $170 Veterans pension. How was I going to buy a round trip ticket to Ghana, West Africa?
The solution came to me in my third dream. Simple. Sell two well written paper back books to Holloway House Publishing Company, one of the weirdest publishing houses in the world, collect the lousy advance and move out sharply.
And that's exactly what I did. Just one small catch to the whole business; I was leaving my "home," the garage, to vault into the unknown. Where would I wind up? On the streets of Accra?
The hell with it. In May, 1992, with the smoke from the aftermath of the Rodney King pachanga still curling up over the Basin, I looked out onto the ugly, sulfite flecked clouds and started thinking about my first African based move.
I drifted off to sleep, trying to blot out the guttural curses of the man stumbling through the house. The African American couple who had invited me to come share their place in Osu were crazies.
Damn, I wasn't really angry with them for being who or what they were, I was angry at myself for not having the common sense to check around before I made the trip. There were at least a dozen people who could've run the scene down for me.
"Well, how long is Mr. Bone Daddy gonna live with us? I mean, like, how long are we gonna have to put up with the presence of this asshole fuckin’ son of a-bitch?
"Huh?! Answer me, bitch.”
"Now, John, please. He just got here last week...."
"Are your sure?! Seems to me this motherfucker been livin' in that room for months!"
It took less than a week to realize that I had landed on the wrong side of the coin. The brother was a hostile drunk and his wife was glorified (in her mind) by her martyrdom. It was a win-win situation for them and a no win no win situation for me.
Objectively, strangely, maybe, I find myself comparing them to gangbangers I've ridden with on the Blue Line, especially that section of the run from Florence to Compton. They were screamin' for help but they wouldn't accept help. Maybe it sounds like a contradiction, but that's the only possible description one can make of behavior that begs for correction, but awaits it in order to refuse it.
Ghana, Africa, came easily. The crazed couple came hard. From May 1992 to September 1992, I lived in their house. I drank with them. I smoked with him. I fell in love on my own.
No doubt in my mind that I was going to have to leave that crazy place. If the scene in Oakland had been infected by PMS, this scene in Ghana was infected, fueled and driven by PMS of another sort, plus Malaria.
I got the Malaria about one month after I arrived. Malaria, in retrospect, was like a severe form of LSD intoxication, coupled to the possibility of dying. (In recent times, I've asked myself why the people who are involved with extreme mountain climbing, “recreational budgeting" and extreme "martial arts" shouldn't get into "extreme Malaria.”
“Extreme Malaria" would offer them all of the wonderful stuff they seem to be seeking. Hallucinations are cheap, weight loss for the fat conscious is guaranteed, "drive by rush" is definitely on the menu, plus a real good sweat plus a real good chill plus visits, under the hallucinogenic influences of a female mosquito of demons.)
On the serious level, Malaria is a hell. And there I was, in hell, with hell in my bloodstream. Didn't matter, about me being sick for a couple weeks, it was simply a part of the mix. He continued to get drunk, come home, rant and rave, and start the next day off like a choirboy.
(Nothing is ever all bad. I met Grace while I was living in the Nasty House....)
Accra is a very difficult city to live in. It's easy to get from place to place, but difficult to find a place to live. It was a crazy time for "Bone Daddy.”
I would come across a hip little place in a groovy area for a million point two cedis (a thousand two hundred dollars), get halfway into the place and wind up being out bid by the guy who was offering a million point four cedis.
It went on like that for eight months. It was really a bad scene. The Nasty House couple were quite aware that I was seeking accommodations elsewhere, and why, which didn't endear me to their malevolent little twisted hearts.
“Now, don't you get out there and start tellin' people what's going on in here." This, from the Lady of the house. As though no one knew. Seems that I was the only one who didn't know, 'til too late.
Eight beastly long months. Finally, in desperation, I threw all of my belongings in a couple cardboard boxes and fled to the Fair Gardens Hotel ("mosquito heaven"), right across the road from the Trade Fair Center.
Now, I could begin to do a little bit more of what a "Bone Daddy” is supposed to do, without having obscene people peek over his shoulder.
Grace was coming to me but she hadn't fully mounted my soul yet.
Four months in a Fair Gardens Hotel cell. A window on the west that slatted out onto a sheep grazing soccer field, a door on the eastside that opened into a dead-end corridor, a "bed" with a foam rubber mattress, a chair and a small round table, a room that held generations of female mosquitoes captive, who took out that anger on me, nightly,
Four hot months of sizzling Malaria episodes, many hours of introspection. What else is there to do in a room that was smaller than many American closets?
But it wasn't all malaria and serious thinking. There were many orgasmic moments, many. Plus the novel that seemed to be writing itself whenever I picked up the pen.
Four long months in a small room. Grace was beginning to edge her rivals over the side of the nest. I could see it happening but I didn't have a name for it. In addition, I didn't know if I liked the idea or not. What is a “Bone Daddy” with no bones?
Susan Amegashie-Ashi, bless her Montessori soul, saved my life from becoming a Fair Gardens statistic by introducing me to Tom Appenteng.
Tom’s rich Daddy had given him a three bedroom house in Kanda and he was open to the idea of a roommate. From a cell to a palace. Technically, Bone Daddy was still basically homeless, but he wasn't sleeping in the street. Thank Tom for that.
Big house, actually three big houses in a large, cobble stoned compound courtyard with a giant, gorgeous magnolia tree in the center. It was Paradise.
Tom was what they call a "half caste" in Ghana. (We always argued about which was the "half and which was the "caste.”)
His father was King of Salt in Ghana, the equivalent to a Kennedy in revenue terms. And Tom was his son by an Irish maid. All of the father’s other wives were African women (and, I assume, the girlfriends, secondary girlfriends, mistresses, etc.), which placed Tom in a unique position.
He was the "half caste," non Ashanti speaking uncle of a quartet of truly gorgeous nieces, and the half brother of a formidable female who lived in a huge house across the compound.
Tom was, of course, an eccentric. He loved a beer in the evening, fufu for lunch, always (he attributed his hunger to the Akan in himself), and dabbled in a cross coded collection of odd interests; numerology and astrology were only two.
We clicked. He was cool, I was a diplomatic scribbler and at the end of the day, we both liked to have a couple of ABC's at the little outdoor bar across the road and watch the oats pepper the air as they started their evening's hunt.
In between times, I sat on my little roomside veranda porch, at night, nourished by a dim bulb, sipping local gin and scribbling to my heart's content.
In the afternoons, I might be privileged to scribble and watch the nieces do what they had to do.
The gorgeous nieces made me think of Tom Peelings' work. Even during the course of the most prosaic work, there always seemed to be art and grace attached to the accomplishment of the task.
I fell in love with all of them, of course, and held my attraction in so strongly that it almost forced them to break the ice. But they didn't, and I didn't, and thusly, we retained and fed on a tension that gave the sexual vibe a new dimension.
I studied them. I studied their language, their gestures, their clothes, the way they ate omo tuo, the way they ate fufu, the way they swept the leaves away from under the tree, the way they watched me, the way them watch each other, the way they stood.
Four beautiful girls (I think the oldest was 17-18) who sparkled like diamonds. I took note of the fact that Grace came to visit me, even times when she hadn't been invited. But, of course, she was welcome, she had to be.
May, ‘93, came like a shot between the eyes. My plane ticket was going to expire, I was going to go into a delinquent visa status. I had to leave, I would have to leave my place to go back to No place.
Grace came to spend the night with me before I left. No one has even tried to describe what lovemaking, during the rainy season, in Accra, Ghana, can possibly be like.
I have several concrete theories; number one, all of the Ghanaian writers I've read are/have been so sexually colonialized they blot out what they see and feel, in order to achieve Eurocentric/Puritanical approval.
Number two; writers in Ghana, like writers in America ('til recently) tend to be dry ass academics.
Number three; I just don't feel that they've even had a 'hood to 'hood Bone Daddy view of the sexual picture.
It doesn't always rain during the rainy season, but there seems to be a pregnant moisture in the air, even when it's not raining. The lovemaking is silent, there may be people in the next room, the next compound, all quite close.
Stuff can go on and on, especially if the man is an African American who has come home to enjoy himself.
(Several African American oralists have been highly placed on a number of hit lists.)
Moist night, everything outside the darkened bedroom window huddled under the flossy leaves and ivory waxy flowers of the Magnolia tree. Sexy frogs croak (the males, they say), begging the females to come.
We are two quiet, aroused naked human being, enchanted by our senses. A distant drum signals the beginning of a Pleistocene rhythm. Our kiss lasts for hours. We swim in love, we burst silent bombs inside each others heads and bodies. No doubt in my mind that I had finally found the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, exploring.
But first I would have to leave her, to return to America. Minister/Colonel Owusu had declined to grant me resident status. The big bastard. If only I had had enough cedis to "dash" him.
Back in the United States of America, California, Los Angeles. Homeless again. A real bummer. My only serious consideration was finding a way to get back to Ghana. Meanwhile, I'll homeless. Well, almost anyway.
“You can stay with me, Bone Daddy, you know that.“
Foolishly, I moved in. Four weeks later, wisely, I moved out. If John Outterbridge had decided to say “no,” I would've taken a blanket and a bottle of water to Griffith Park. I had already staked out a place.
The lessons that I learned while spending four tortuous weeks in my girlfriend's house will stay with me for life. Number one: some men and some women should never attempt to live together.
They are capable of fighting, loving, sky diving, running, pissing or whatever together. But they shouldn't try to live together. I didn't know that until I tried to live with Lady P.
Number two: don't assume that you are going to be at ease with this person you’ve always been at ease with, under her roof. If you've been at ease before, you'll discover that she has changed.
"Sorry, Bone Daddy, that's not the way I like to have things done up in here.”
And there are other situations that will occur. Each man must find his own way.
The 'Bridge's pad. John Outterbridge, Artist, former Director extraordinaire of the Watts Towers Art Center (1975 1992), who is generally credited with causing an artistic hullabaloo in South Central "EL A" during his watch. A friend.
"Well, Bone Daddy, I'm preparing works for a retrospective... hope I won't disturb you too much.”
I should be so lucky to be disturbed every day of my life, the way he disturbed me. He "disturbed" me for five incredible months.
I would go to sleep at 11:00 PM. and wake up at 5:00 AM., anxious to see what John had created. Creative people are Gods. I haven't had any doubts about that for years.
Those were five of the most "disturbingly" satisfied months of my life. Art is the 'Bridge’s life, and mine.
So, I’ve sld anther book to tat weird Holloway House, time to go back home.
September, 1993. Kotoka Airport, home. Grace was there to meet me. How did she know the time and day of my arrival? I hadn't told her. I was beginning to suspect that the baby knew a lot more about Bone Daddy than I cared for her to know. Now then, after reasoning all that out, where am I going to live?
Well, this sister who practically commutes to Ghana, had given me the name and address of a lady named Marilyn Amponsah, a member of the Children's Commission or something like that. I was set for the moment, but I still didn't have my own spot.
Marilyn Amponsah lived on the 3rd floor of an apartment building in Roman Ridge. Osu, Kanda, Labadi, Roman Ridge, I was beginning to know Accra.
In Ghanaian terms, Marilyn had a hip place. As a government employee of some standing, she had a rent free place with running water in a decent area (there were embassies all over the place; the Brazilian Embassy was around the corner and the Algerians were down the road) and a vehicle to drive. A cosmetic check of the scene would have given her situation a big thumbs up. But that ain’t the way it was.
First off, the seemingly hip house was dysfunctional. Her two children, appropriately named "Mommy” and "Poppa” in Ashanti, were as delinquent as the circumstances would allow. Her huge boyfriend was a mass of contradictions and Marilyn was a rotten sneak and a petty cheat.
I was not living on sacred ground. The apartment within the apartment that I rented from Ms. Amponsah had some definite advantages. My room had a toilet, which gave me the opportunity to evade and avoid a lot of the family madness.
It took me approximately two days to realize I was living in a den of pirates.
The boyfriend wanted to borrow money from me. I said “no.” Marilyn borrowed money from me to buy bread. The “maid," Ama, sneaked into my room to make love to her boyfriend.
The children, uncharacteristically ill behaved for Ghanaian s, tried to borrow money from me. The girl, a conniving twelve year old, tried to seduce me. And there was all of the other yang-yang stuff that is customarily found in dysfunctional households -- Marilyn avoiding people she owed money to, the children having problems with other children and adults in the building, money missing, stuff.
If they had been speaking English, instead of Twi, they would've fit the frame of any Negrocentric family on the Near Westside of Chicago.
And then the brother comes from Sierra Leone, a real slickster who wore two toned shoes, his pants up around his chest, pimped a woman who looked like a small hippo and asked to use my deodorant once too often.
“No, buy yourself some.”
Of courser his feelings were hurt, but I didn't give a damn. The whole family had gotten on my nerves. Meanwhile, I'm teaching a Capoeira class at Mr. T's Aerobics Studio, teaching my own group of students in Osu, teaching a creative writing class at the Accra Girls Secondary School, teaching a creative writing class at the Ghana International School, writing articles for the Horizon newspaper and the Public Agenda newspaper, writing reams of letters to the people I care about everywhere, writing a novel, trying to figure out how to escape the dysfunctional household (I was experienced now, I knew there was a way), showing my lady, Grace, how much I loved her, drinking a lot of beer and learning a lot at Susan Amegashie's afternoon “seminars.”
Yeah, I was busy, maybe too busy, but not too busy to begin to code my way off of the third floor. I was beginning to show signs of bite wounds.
What's the matter with you, Bone Daddy? Are you going to allow a collection of low grade scam artists to eat you alive?
No, of course not.
Well, then, what's the plan? You can either change your personality around and stay on the frontline of this mess, fight it, or run from it.
I opted to run. I couldn't see a bit o’ win happenin' in her house, on her turf.
How did I meet the brother? 0 yeahhh, my Osu Capoeira group gave a demo on Labadi Beach and he came over to speak to me after it was over.
I didn't pay him any more attention than I wouldv'e paid any other shave headed, one eye hooded, bright smiling, first African-American-Attorney-to-be-qualified-to-practice-law-in-Ghana.
JaJa Bakari was his name and he became my savior.
"Well, I've got this four bedroom house in Nungua. There’s a sister from Philly living there now but she'll be gone next week. I’ll be leaving next week, also. I have some business I have to take care of in Atlanta.
“But, hey, don't worry about anything, my man, Kalo, will be there. He'll take care of you.”
That's a mild idea of the way JaJa moves. It was impossible to determine what he was doing, on a day-to-day basis, but one thing is certain, he was doing it.
It gave me great satisfaction to see the lady, her rapacious boyfriend, her greedy children and her predatory brother washing their hands with distress.
"Please, you mustn't go!"
"O, we need you.”
"That's one of the reasons why I'm going.”
If Roman Ridge was a slice of domestic hell, Nungua was a piece of rental heaven. Teshie-Nungua, never will forget it as long as I live.
Three bedroom house in a walled compound, fresh ocean breezes gently sweeping through every day, even on the muggiest days. A San Francisco high ceilinged bedroom to work in, no domestic clap trap to be involved with.
"Bone, come! ‘Dynasty’ is on the tellie!”
"Why the hell would I want to watch ‘Dynasty?’”
"It's from America!"
And brother Kalo to serve. I have to believe that Kalo was from a different atmosphere. Kalo was JaJa's man about the house, which means that he did everything that had to be done.
And he didn't do it reluctantly. Kalo added a new dimension to the word "servant.” He was a servant, but he wasn't servile. He took pride in what he did, no matter whether it was washing the dishes or cutting the weeds that sprouted all around the place.
He set a standard that encouraged me to do better. To try to do better. To do my best.
And there was Grace at my side. I had gradually fallen in love with Grace. Stupid, simple me, after all these months of having this beautiful human being in my life, before I reached the conclusion that I would be a fool not to love her. What could possibly prevent me from loving her, other that my own stupidity?
Nungua was coming to an end, it had to. I was going to be my own man in my own house in Ghana. I had to be. I had spent eight months living in a lovely, ocean breezed environment, but it all belonged to someone else.
It reached a point where I was feeling feverish about the idea. Or was that the latest episode of malaria?
Grace and I decided to pull it together in January, 1995, at the seaside beach resort call Kokrobite.
We talked all day about what our life would be like, together. There were so many things to overcome, to reckon with: cultures, age (I was 58, she was 28), attitudes, two bureaucracies. My visa had expired months ago and I knew I would have to deal with the mean spirited bastards at immigration, eventually. But I would deal with them when the time came.
Meanwhile, there was a house to be built, a life to be lived with Grace.
I was taken, but not too badly, doing my first home building deal, anywhere. To have done it in Ghana and escaped alive is a testimonial to the generosity of the Orisha and to God. In a place where the average person is literally living from day-to-day, sometimes from hour-to-hour, the human talent for rapacity can be developed in a way that only a Hollywood agent could possibly understand it.
I had contracted a builder to do me a two bedroom house in Labadi at Palm Wine Junction. It was all set, all of the arrangements made, money exchanged, the whole banana.
In Ghana, with the cheap labor and the proper amount of cement, a small house can be erected in a week or less. We set things into motion in October. By the time January, 1995 showed its scarred head, we were supposed to be moving into our place at Palm Wine junction.
Nothing happening. The bare frame of the house was in place, with the beginning of a wall on one side and no roof in place.
I had made an emotional decision: “Come January, '95, I'm going to be in my own place or else.” Or else what? I hadn't quite figured that out, but I knew I was going to have to be in my own space. I had lived under JaJa's roof long enough. January 1st, 1995 was my own personal deadline.
Now what do I, we do? The house is half done ("we need three move days, at least") and we have no place to call home.
What the hell, we'll go spend a couple days in the Grace Jones Hotel. Our house is only a half mile away; we can to check on it every day. That's the only way to have things done efficiently, in Ghana. You must sit on the site.
The "couple days" lasted four long months, from February 1st to May 1st. A "couple days” in the Grace Jones Hotel was lifetime experience.
At the end of a long, incredibly rutted road in deepest Labadi, packed with people doing every conceivable human thing anybody could think of, swarming with diseases of all kinds, was the Grace Jones Hotel.
Mr. Nai gave us the best room in his establishment. It had a shower. We didn't unpack (for the first week), there was no need to do that, we were going to be moving into our own spot in a few days.
Mr. Nai’s Grace Jones Hotel was where the local lovemaking was done by the half hour for a reasonable price. We didn't know that when we moved in and it really didn't matter because everybody was cool.
Mr. Nai had a bar located at the entrance to his collection of rooms (Grace called them "money pots") and no one got loud and rowdy, and it was in an authentic neighborhood, which was good for my anthropological research.
But, damn it! I was still living under another man’s roof. Four boring months, waiting for our little house to be built. It meant being forced to have a patience I didn't think I had.
It did something for me and Grace that probably wouldn't have happened under other circumstances. We became very close friends. Four months in a small space is an interesting way to grow to love someone. Or hate them.
With nothing to do for many hours of the blistering day, we sprawled out on the mattress that I had to lay on the floor to preserve my sensitive back and did soul chats. Or said nothing.
I was enchanted, I am enchanted by Grace's femininity, of thinking, of acting, of being. I felt I was being exposed to a completely exotic trick in our little space inside the Grace Jones Hotel. But I was still living under another man's roof and paying him by the day for the honor.
We had to get out of there. And we did, one bright day in May. What sense did it make to pay rent daily and at the same time pay to have a house built?
My tortured reason forced me to see an advantage in living in a partially constructed house (that belonged to me), rather than pay rent for a room that would never be mine.
Mr. Nai was severely pissed to see his "money pot" disappear. But it didn't matter, we were free. I think Grace thought that I had blown my cool, for a minute. And, "Oh," she said, "I see what you've done, you've taken us out of the room and put us in our house.”
Damn! I was so proud! For the first time in my life I was living in my own bonafide house, my house, paid for and almost completed.
The finishing touches were literally done over our heads. It seemed to make the workmen work more seriously when they saw that we were going to be THERE.
By the first week in May, 1995, we had settled into our Little House in the compound. I have to force my mind to return to the scene to even begin to imagine what our neighbors must have gossiped about.
Here is this middle aged obruni-African American writer-man moving into an authentic African neighborhood (there are neighborhoods that are the opposite, yes, in Ghana, West Africa) with a young African (Ashanti) woman.
What the hell do you make of it? It was a complex matter. First off, it didn't take long for our neighbors to come to the conclusion that we were not rich folks doing a Harlem/slum scam. We had to get our pineapples on credit too, and eat at Mojays when the cedis grew thin. And I did go and sit in the bar to sip my gins and stouts, just like any other African chauvinist.
Aside for all the regulation stuff, there were some distinctions. Grace didn't work and I had no visible means income "he's a writah" didn't mean much to people who were rationing their money for the gift of each day.
Obviously, since I wasn't working and my wife wasn't working, we were "rich," in some weird, special way. No one could figure it out. I couldn't either.
Those were divine moments in that Little House on Palm Wine Junction, carefully nourished by rainy season midnight thunder sessions and my blown up ego as a home owner.
I wrote in the front room at my little school boy desk, enjoying the children's games that ebbed and flowed from the moment they got home from school until they were forced to go to bed while my woman prepared jollof rice and delicious gumbo type stews in the kitchen.
We sprawled on the platform bed that I had had a carpenter down the road make and talked about the improvements we wanted to make on the house.
(We had a shower and an indoor toilet installed; a first for the compound.)
We played wari in the bedroom with Grace challenging me to beat her at her own game. I think she allowed me to do it a few times, just to keep the spirit of competition alive.
And we held each other in the bedroom, sometimes like children who felt lost in the world, sometimes to give each other courage to endure the fevers of malaria and other exotic ailments that could only be found at Palm Wine junction, in Labadi, Accra, Ghana, West Africa.
I couldn't see myself living at the compound level, or in Labadi forever, but I knew it was going to take years to build a front porch and to add another level to our little house.
We were designing something (in our heads/conversations, that Home Beautiful would/could never imagine) that was going to be African African American unique. And then one night the rain came.
May October is the rainy season in Ghana, but that doesn't mean that it rains every day at 3:15.
Some days it doesn't rain at all, r but when it does, it can rain blizzards of water, huge golicious droplets that can blot out the sight of things a couple yards away.
In July, 1995, on the 4th, it started raining very hard. It rained all day, which gave a moist, pregnant, romantic feeling to the time. And it continued to rain hard, way into the night.
I was going through a malaria episode. Feverish rides on cold swings, marathon sweats, no desire to get well, these little gnomes in their steel plated boots, kicking my temples from within. I dropped my hand over the side of the bed to feel the coolness of the floor, anything to help me get through the night.
So cool, so wet? I leaned over the side of the bed to look at the shallow lake on the floor.
Hallucination. I sprawled back for a moment, smiling. No, I was not going to be fooled by a fever.
I dropped my hand back over the side into water that soaked my elbow. We were being flooded. It felt so cool and pleasant. We're being flooded!
Rain suddenly iced my brain, the fever was gone and we were racing around in our little space, trying to figure out what to do. Cinch the foam rubber mattress with a suddenly found cord, it will float on our mattress platform. Put a few things on top of the refrigerator. Hop on top of my writing table and drown.
"Bone Daddy, are you afraid of dying?"
It took me a couple wavy moments to answer that.
"It's too late to be afraid.” And strangely, I wasn't afraid. My fever was gone, calmed down by the tepid water we were standing in, up to our necks.
From our “ringside seats," standing on the table, we stared through the window slats at the rain, the water flushing into the compound from the narrow passageway that was always so cooly shadowed on hot days.
The rolling of the thunder sounded like worlds fracturing and, periodically, the raindrops would become thicker. Our neighbors wore out on their porches, beseeching the gods and God to stop punishing us this way.
The water was at the waist level in the compound; the pregnant woman dashed out into the middle of our neighborhood, screaming maddened by the thunder and the pounding rain. Her husband and another man rescued her, pulled her back.
She would have drowned if she had fallen. The Obagyes were praying in front of a lantern that cast devilish shadows on their faces. Here and there were signs of panic, but it was contained by cooler heads.
Rain, prayers, people screaming, thunder, prayers, as we stood on the table, exchanging comments from time to time.
"Looks like the water is going down, see? You can see the level over there on the wall."
"The rain is becoming more small, yes.”
My all time love took hold in that rain. I stared at Grace's small, sculptured profile and loved her. I loved her for the moments we had shared, the days we had trudged through the blistering rutted roads together, the weeks we had spent in the Grace Jones Hotel, sprawled doggo, waiting for the evening to bring us some relief from the sun, the months we had held each other, not really certain of what the future would give us.
The water surged up under our chins. For the first time in my life I didn’t feel claustrophobic in a small space. I can't say why exactly, maybe the water we stood in gave me a different sense of dimensions.
Where do we go if the water continued to rise? We were trapped, and we would drown if the water rose higher. It didn't.
Suddenly the rain was reduced to relative sprinkles and the people on the next porch started singing Christian hymns. We were not going to drown tonight, a night that lasted for days.
We were clearing away rubbish, washing the mud from our walls and preparing to face life again when dawn came. Optimists, we knew that life was going to be better after the storm. It would have to be better.
KLM (In ‘Plane View)...
KLM, World Business Class, after two weeks of running back and forth to the airport, to take a scheduled 'plane back to the future.
flack and forth to the immigration, the month before that, blindsided by resentful, corrupt, underpaid bureaucrats.
"We can't allow you to pay your overdue visa fee until you pay your overdue visa fee."
In other words, if you don't "dash" me, you'll never get on that 'plane back to the place I’m dying to get to.
Here, please, allow me to "dash" you so that I can dash out of here. I hated Ghana for a couple of days, during the course of this meanspirited exchange with these meanspirited people.
“Why have you remained so long in Ghana here?"
"Because I love the people, I....”
“That is not a good answer....”
I hated the brutality that their dogheaded processes took me through, the attitudes that permanently stamped them, "Africa, Ghana, Third World.” But I kept the whole business in perspective; I was only dealing with a few anal types, they didn't represent the whole society.
KLM, World Business Class, the blonde placing a tray in front of you every ten minutes, or a glass of wine, or cognac. I spaced out on the treatment.
I nodded, dreamed, cried a few times, thinking about my wife to be, back there on the ground in Accra. She couldn't come with me, she didn't have a visa/passport, we weren't married. What the hell, we'd have to do it long distance.
Once again, my most immediate concern was a place to live. Once again I was back in the House, with no Home. As some of us used to say, “my baby's Momma" (the women said, "my baby's Daddy") offered me a place to stay in their apartment on Wilshire and Normandie, Apartment 711.
Talk about being saved. I go from being homeless to living on the seventh floor of a "secure" apartment, complete with a swimming pool on the roof. It took me three months after my arrival to stop trembling.
Residual malaria had me trembling for awhile, plus a sense of unrealness about where I was. I would be tempted to call it culture shock, but I don't think I had been away from America long enough for that to happen.
This was something else, it was a sense of disbelief. How could I have come from there to this?
It was much easier to identify the source of the tear jags. I was missing Grace more than I have missed anyone in my whole life. I know I was going to have to fight for her, but I didn't know what the choice of weapons would be, or who the enemy/enemies would be, beyond the concentrated bureaucracies of Ghana and the U.S.
I had to stop crying to get a clear focus on my life, and on the life that I was determined to build for us. It took a few months of stabbing shadows in the dark before I found the proper bodies to shoot at.
Meanwhile, for the first time, I was having the rare experience of getting to know a grandson, a daughter and "my baby's Momma.”
“Love,” the "baby's Momma" and the grandson, Brian. They gave me a family feast for a year, from September '95 to September '96, I wallowed in the family's bosom. I had never really know "Love," I had just simply got her pregnant, the way boys do at 16, and that was that.
I had gotten together with my friend, the Iyalosa Tanina Songobumni, to have a some luruko, an adoption "cere for the baby we had," many years later, but I couldn't say that I actually knew my daughter, Gabrielle.
And I could never have imagined a grandson like Brian....
Over the years, "Love" had developed into one of the extraordinary women who had figured out all of the simple emotional stuff, and had a leg up on the complex items. We were acquaintances when we made the baby, and became friends thereafter.
I think of her as the best woman-friend I've ever had. That friendship matured during the year I lived in #711. We talked. She talked, I listened, I talked, she listened. I watched the way she spread her "love" around. It was, to coin a cliche, “awesome.”
There were days when she seemed to be feeling whole neighborhoods, sympathizing with dozens and dispensing advice across the country.
She was/is a composite Oprah/Montell/Ann Landers/Dear Abby/Yo' Gran'momma, when it comes to advising wisely. Her insights were clear, her advice lush and clear. She did a wholistic number with her positive self.
Adesina, “she who brings gold," Gay, gave me a female tinted view of myself. I could see the same characteristics in her that used to make people whisper behind their hands.
“What’s the matter with him?"
"He read too much, that's the basic problem."
It was something else with her, a strong sense of reserve, a private person. I connected with her when she gave me a hug and said, "I'm glad you're here.” And that was that. No long gushy speeches, no false themes played.
I liked that. I do like that about her, no need to do a jolly jolly number with her. If she likes you, she likes you, if she doesn't, that's the way that is, no apologies either way.
She typed a fat novel for me, that will be sold by the time she reads this, a serious indication that she cares about me. I love her dearly.
Brian, the grandson. I never really got to know. Erika's son, Americhe, or the children of my first delinquent sperm out. But during the course of one year, I got to know Brian pretty well.
How old was he then? Ten years old? And full of piss ‘n vinegar. In my mind's eye I attach a basketball to his hands because I can't ever recall seeing him for longer than ten minutes without a basketball in his hands.
I was called "Grandfather” for the first time and that made me feel honored. Just back from Africa, where titles like that carry great weight.
#711, lucky numbers for sure. I stumbled around, looking for gigs. I wrote, I made serious efforts to hook up with somebody to make some serious money. I wrote. I wrote to keep my balance, I wrote because I have to, the only addiction I feel safe allowing myself to surrender to.
I got nibbles and quibbles but no solid fix on anything. People promised me this and that but no one came through with anything.
I wrote encouraging letters to Grace assuring her that we would be together again soon. I wrote.
There were times, during that dark year, when I can't really understand how I wrote, but I did.
I know that my mental well being depended on it. If I stopped writing I would collapse; I wouldn't be able to tell Grace that we were going to have our place (again), despite the fact that I was living in a corner of "Love's" apartment. I wouldn't be able to fantasize correctly.
I wrote. And I'm still writing, with some of the same goals in mind.
I saw a huge black pit open up in front of me when “Love” told me I would have to move out. The lease was designed for a certain number, and I was one too much. Management had taken notice of my rituals on the rooftop and my jaunty air about the joint.
"Bone Daddy" was homeless again. Fortunately, I knew J.... Surely everyone should have at least one friend like J....
J, the Packrat.
"Yeah, you got a place here, if you can find a way to get in.”
I cast around for other possibilities. I was willing to do any number of things to prevent myself from moving into J's space, what little there is of it.
The thing that you have to understand about J is this; on the outside he appears to be "normal," but this is pure deception. One has to take a peek around the edge of the scenery to see the real person. His car is a bit more clogged with items in the back seat but that's only a hint.
I was forced by circumstances to go into J's space. Come with me....
The place would be as spacious as any street level loft, perhaps a grocery store without aisles, were it not so congested. The congestion starts at the entrance.
The door opens and we are confronted by a curious mix of stuff crowding the aisle. There is a do it yourself wall on the left, bulging from the weight of the stuff on the other side. There is a motorcycle parked on the right side of the narrow aisle, and stuff parked on the motorcycle, and stuff piled on top of that stuff. Some of it is obviously useful; the cans of motor oil, ladders, car repair kits, futons, motorcycle helmets, mattress springs and stuff like that.
But how useful are three four year old copies of the LA Weekly and miscellaneous other bits and pieces of this and that?
Before I moved in with him, years before, visiting him, I became so claustrophobic I had to go back outside.
But now it's a new day and I'm going to live in the incredible clutter.
We feel things clutching and grabbing at us as we carefully thread through the jumbled entrance.
It's almost impossible not to dislodge something, or trip over something as we walk the entrance obstacle course, which is about ten short yards.
Ten short yards of pure clutter before we reach a fork in the passageway. An opening to the left reveals a large room, maybe twenty yards wide, thirty yards long, filled with every possible piece of stuff imaginable.
A stuffed armadillo, a gumball machine, a full sized ten paneled window, photographic equipment (the brother is a professional photographer), stacks of boxes filled with all kinds of stuff, strips of film dangling here and there.
There is a picture window, the kind you'd find in a Mom 'n Pop store, but this one has blinds and a metallic colored curtain hanging in front. Light comes through but there is no sense of its source.
Standing there, looking at the metallic curtain, surrounded by heaping piles of old newspapers, newspaper racks, bags of ancient Chinese noodles, hat racks, a book case stuffed with what seemed to be files of some kind, file cabinets filled with dirty clothes, and God only knows what else, I felt like someone stranded on a desert island.
The smaller room to the right is the most jammed of all. A desk that is piled three feet high with paperwork, old photos, books, prints, newspapers, memos on napkins, junk.
In addition to a couple medium sized glass tanks where he keeps his pet lizards. In the middle of all this, he has two living creatures in these glass tanks.
He feeds then what they eat, gives them water and talks to them occasionally. It seems so bizarre.
The next room, also smaller, but with a higher ceiling might be called the nerve center of the establishment. There is an answering machine fax plainly visible under a pile of notes, candy bars, noodle packages, dirty socks, whatever.
The television is centered in front of the weathered futon sofa, with the hifi ground into the same niche. A small computer is mounted adjacent to the television.
Clothes that were laundromat-ed a year ago clutter the sofa, along with piles of junk mail, legal briefs, blankets, foot powder, etc.
J clears a space for me to sit on and we sit there, jammed together like Siamese twins, watching the best of PBS. He loves movies and other visual stuff, as you would imagine a photographer would, and tapes every possible program that he can. It's almost as though he were trying to save TELEVISION.
The racks on two walls are testimonials to his determination to record everything that passes through his hands. He has wonderful Japanese, French, Italian, Australian, African, Hungarian movies and documentaries but it is difficult for him to locate anything because there is no system with his arrangement, everything is everywhere.
Onward to the next room, which is only slightly smaller than the front room. This is the "kitchen," but also a storage space for ancient sports jackets, odd bottles of exotically flavored liquors (watermelon schnapps, peach flavored brandy, chocolate flavored rum, ginger snap flavored whiskey), two year old copies of the L.A. Times, stuff so eclectic that it would have to be seen to be imagined.
The "kitchen" also serves as a shower because there is no bathroom in the place. Bathing is done in a large plastic "boat.” It requires a little effort to learn the technique.
I dug a shallow bed from the center of the clutter in
the front room and cried myself to sleep every night for a month. I felt so bad about being so broke that I couldn't afford the rent for my own space.
I was so bad off I had to ask J for help. I felt so low.
Funny, complex kind of feeling.
Here I am, "Bone Daddy, the Player," being forced to live in a junk pile, the most complex part of it had to do with J. He's a real brother, a true friend, a bit self-righteous maybe, but a heart that's this big. The big problem has to do with the fact that whatever he says, that's supposed to be logical, is invalidated by his illness.
Yes, it is an illness and those of us who do not call him on it wind up being part of the sickness. I was part of the sickness for eight months.
I became a part of it because I moved onto the set. I became a participant in the madness when I allowed my selfish needs to overcome the honest urge to talk with my friend, to help him deal with his massive denial of the fact that the environment he has created for himself (for whatever reason) is "abnormal."
Each of us (his so-called friends) chose to suspend judgment of his ridiculous lifestyle (nowhere to sit, three people standing face to face, saving junk mail, plastic forks, spoons, vacuuming a few inches of space in front of the sofa with a mini vacuum cleaner, etc.) because of an affection for him.
This affection for a quirky, giving, generous, complex human being, allows us to get what we want from him. What do I, we want? No critique of whatever our game is. In exchange, we are forced to surrender judgment of who he is.
Why would an intelligent person stack mounds of stuff around himself? What series of events brought him to this point?
The contradictions inherent to this lifestyle are incredible. He spends lots of time discussing other people's faults, but doesn't see the irony of the dysfunctional living space. Everything in the place is lost.
I was under the impression, for a while, that he knew where everything was. I was amazed to discover that I remembered where some things were. It was so easy to put something down and have it dissolve into the crazy collage we were living in. How often did we search for his car keys, the television remote control, other odd items? No, he didn't know where everything was.
And I could see the manifestations of that lostness in his daily life. The need to be everywhere at the same time, the mania of working to earn enough credit to buy enough stuff to be in debt for, and then to start the whole business all over again.
I felt like a shyster lawyer, discussing the thin threads of a strange case, as we talked about the craziness of the world, standing a few feet from each other because there was nowhere to sit.
I felt almost ashamed of us, sitting cheek to cheek on the sofa, trays placed under our heads like napkins, because there was no table, no place to really relax. It was like having dinner in the center aisle of a crowded New York subway.
The good brother who would get up in the middle of the night to go to bat for you, but could not bear to hear the simplest advice he could hear -- “unload, brother! unload!”
Don't you see: by surrounding yourself with things, with stuff, your mind will be stuffed with stuff? It's almost axiomatic. This has nothing to do with good or bad. Or right or wrong. But rather a closing off, a constipating of many of the good vibes that need clear channels to flow through.
I prayed myself out of J's space. They were the most difficult prayers I have ever offered to my Ancestors, to the Orisa, to God. I prayed to be released from the burden of his hospitality and my prayers were answered.
I would never be able to string the beaded circumstances together that gave me a spacious, furnished room in WLCAC's "Spanish House," a guesthouse used by WLCAC for people who are on the scene, doing something for WLCAC.
Well, Cecil Fergerson was the catalyst and Teryl Watkins, the president of WLCAC, was the one who put the blessing on the cake.
"O, you can live in the Spanish House. Rent? 0, well, that's enough...."
So, now, here I am. From a foam mattress on the floor of J's junk pile to a furnished, five bedroom house (all mine when there are no guests around).
From September, 1996 - April, 1997, J's. Now I have space to think, plan, strategize, write. My lease expires in December. If it hasn't happened by then, I'm going to request a full year. During the course of that time I will accomplish all of the things that I want to accomplish. How do I know I can do that?
If I prayed my way out of J's space, I can do anything, even find a cure for my homeless condition.
THE GYPSY IN ME ('Round trip to the Metro)...
I don't know, maybe it stems from my nomadic childhood, this Gypsy thing, moving from one side of Chicago to the other side (the city only has three sides; the Southside, the Northside and the Westside. Lake Michigan is the eastside); before I was fifteen we, my mother and sister (Daddy was doing time in Statesville Penitentiary) had lived on all sides of the city, including a stay as far east as the Lake would allow.
I didn’t feel put out by this constant shuffling of pads (evictions were the usual motivations for our motions), I was turned on. I hated the ratholes we burrowed into, for a week or a month, but I loved the scenes we wandered through.
On the Southside I got to know a few Japanese kids at Oakenwald Grammar School, over there on Lake Park Avenue (Oakenwald was one of the 18 grammar schools I went to). Where did they come from? I didn't find out 'til many years later, they were refugees from the West Coast, hassled to find some degree of safety from Japanese haters.
And the pimps and 'hoes (many people say whores). I knew where they came from. They turned tricks and lived in the building we lived in, for awhile, never too long, the Almo Hotel -- 3800 S. Lake Park Avenue.
In tune with my nomadic side, the neighborhood, the buildings we lived in, the things that happened were never still, never stationery. Yes, the neighborhoods moved. Sometimes they would be Irish or Italian and change overnight to Black. Or Mexican, or Czechoslovakian.
The building moved. A four story brick on Monday, a parking lot or a department store on Friday. I was in tune. It was like a Nature thing.
Turning a corner was a voyage into the occult. Going to sleep and waking up in the same bedroom was an adventure.
I crisscrossed the Southside like a White man who was in search of something to “discover.” There were moments in time when I was walking through a dream, experiencing the effects of something that I couldn't find a name for.
On the Southside (which included the Lakefront, despite the fact; that it was east), there were collections, aggregations, congregations, glutamates, crowds of emotions, school units, ideas profoundly scholarly and hip men and women. Plus midnight carnivals with so much-much much music and life strengthening vibes that it was hard to sleep.
The daytime promised and delivered daytime vibes and the nighttime promised and delivered nighttime vibes, and none of them were sleep invoking. I dream of the Southside as though it were a real place.
And the same goes for the Westside (where I was born). The Maxwell Street Hospital was where it happened.
Jewtown, they called it back then, and that wasn’t considered something derogatory or pejorative. It was where Jews lived, worked and hustled. I think the Jews help make the Westside my favorite side of town. It may have had something to do with their bread, or maybe it was the non protestant vibe.
It took me a long time to find out where the Jews came from and what a Jew is. If I read the newspapers closely, it seems that they're having the same problems themselves – “What is a Jew?"
I didn't have any doubts about the Gypsies. There was a Gypsy colony in Jewtown, down around Canal Street. I knew who they were, intuitively. The Jews had the bread I liked, but the Gypsies had the soul I loved.
Day after day, I found an excuse to wander through their tiny neighborhood. Maybe three/four hundred people, and I still don't know if they were Spanish, Hungarian, Indian, Russian or what. But that was the drawing card for me, the fact that they never allowed national boundaries to fence them in.
I stared into their mouths when they spoke, laughed at the music of songs I couldn't understand, but seemed funny because the singers made funny faces. And frowned when the sad music was played. I knew the blues when I heard it.
The Gypsies hemmed me in with their stuff. They seemed to be ethereal. They were there and yet they were not there.
Maybe the Maxwell Street Library offered a rationale for my hemming. I'll never know. I do know that it was a Bronzed Age chill racing through the streets, nipping cotton bound buttocks, that forced me into the two story building.
A Library. I was twelve maybe, going on thirty, and had never heard of anything called a library not on the personal level, at any rate.
A few minutes was all I needed to warm my mittenless hands in the vestibule (a place before you get into the a place, my definition of their definition), but that was enough to change my life forever.
Someone was playing the piano upstairs -- "Dream Girl, Dream Girl, Awaken to me, 0 beautiful Dream Girl, awaken to me....”
I followed the melody but never found it, or the pianist, and found myself in the Maxwell Street Library.
I have to cool myself out even today, when I recall the excitement of walking into a room that was filled with books. In the warmth of the building I thought I was hallucinating, that maybe I had died in the Siberian cold of the Chicago winter and was reborn in a book bound Heaven.
where was the Librarian? Maybe he/she was the piano/Circe who lured me into the Room of Books.
I plunged and lunged through the stacks, leaving unread
volumes behind me. And wound up with something called, "Romany Rye" and "Lawrence of Arabia.”
Only God and the Orisa can say, what took me there, why I picked those books to read1 why I heard that melody in my head. “Romany Rye" was a sociological study of European Gypsies.
I can't remember ~hat conclusions the book reached, or what the premise of the book was supposed to be. For me, it was a flight of birds flying higher than any mountain on earth, a glimpse at colors that shimmered in the sunlight.
"Lawrence of Arabia" simply reinforced the romanticism I stumbled into the library with.
I wasn't sophisticated enough to ask the Librarian's help to track down books about the Rom. I just simply stumbled blindly, from one occasional reference to a volume to another.
Everything that I came across served to enhance my admiration for them, for a people who could dismiss borders by roaming the Earth, the way Human Beings should roam the Earth.
During our own Gypsy period, in two grammar schools out of the eighteen we whipped through, I had two teachers, one African American and one White who asked me, "What would you like to be when you grow up?"
And when I answered, "A Gypsy," the Earth stopped spinning for a minute. The Black teacher asked my mother to come up for a chat. The chat went on for awhile and I recall the teacher saying something about "identity” several times.
My mother simply nodded, a neutral expression on her pretty little beige face. She knew her son.
The White teacher who asked me the magic question turned slightly pink and stuttered, “But ... but they don't have any... any... anything."
“They have Gypsy ways. That's what I like."
The lady looked at me out of the corners of her eyes for the rest of the time (two months) I spent in her classroom. Guess she wanted to see if the Gypsy in me was going to bust out.
Years later, in Spain, in the city of Alicante, on the southeastern coast, I became friends with a number of Gypsy people and for the first time in my life I realized I could never be a Gypsy. But I still feel like one.
Wandering.... Wandering.... Wandering.... Wander-ing.... Hmmm....